“Of Vampire Born”: Interracial Mothering in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction
We have chosen each other
and the edge of each other’s battles
the war is the same
if we lose
someday women’s blood will congeal
upon a dead planet
if we win
there is no telling
we seek beyond history
for a new and possible meaning.1
While the use of the supernatural in African American fiction to explore issues of both race and gender has been acknowledged, not least since the publication of Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), less well known black women writers of horror and science fiction (with the exception of Octavia Butler) have been largely excluded by publishing houses and mostly ignored within the scholarship of the field in general. Only recently have works by speculative fiction writers such as Jewelle Gomez, Tananarive Due, Andrea Hairston, and Nalo Hopkinson gained more extensive critical attention, a trend that is reflected in anthologies like Dark Matter (2000) and Afro-Future Females (2008). Besides being actively engaged with the historical past, recovering “things forgotten and the tragedy of forgetfulness” (Shawl 131), these black women writers re-negotiate, as Marleen Barr notes, “a whole set of gendered and racialized dichotomies” (xvii). This observation especially holds true for the portrayal of motherhood in these texts. Flouting the norms of realism and rational explanation, their work “unravels, displaces and interrogates traditional scripts of motherhood” (Abbey and O’Reilly 16)—that is, of both black and white maternity. It is within the realm of the speculative that these black women writers explore interracial mothering2 as a new trope which allows them—to paraphrase Shelley Fisher Fiskin—to not only complicate blackness but also interrogate whiteness.
This essay focuses on Jewelle Gomez’s “Louisiana 1850” (1991),3 a short story which centers around the maturation of a slave child, “the Girl.” Having escaped from slavery after her biological mother’s death, the Girl is rescued and ‘adopted’ by a white, 300-year-old lesbian vampire—Gilda—and later turned into a lesbian vampire herself. Critical responses to the short story have largely focused on Gomez’s re-definition of both the historically white and male vampire genre and the significance of a black lesbian vampire figure. They have also stressed the author’s creation of a more “inclusive vision of those [marginalized groups] traditionally absent from literary discourses” (M. Jones 154). In my analysis of the short story, I will explore how Gomez establishes an interracial maternal relationship between the white vampire Gilda and the slave child. I will demonstrate how Gomez constructs reoccurring parallels and connections between the Girl’s dead biological mother and Gilda in order to establish the white female vampire as an equally important maternal figure to the slave child. Even more importantly, it is the use of the fantastic—in the figure of the vampire—which creates new discursive spaces for an interracial mother-daughter relationship that disrupts the historical power imbalances between a white woman and a black slave girl. The trope of a maternal vampire not only enables Gomez to create a mothering relationship that “push[es] boundaries outwards” (Gomez, “Recasting” 85) in its transgression of racial divisions. It also presents what Elisabeth Anne Leonard calls “imagined alternatives” (4) that fundamentally dismantle and transcend any normative concepts of black and white motherhood.
The central importance of maternity within “Lousiana 1850” becomes highly visible in the very first sentences of the short story, which depict the Girl’s intimate reminiscences of her dead slave mother. These comforting memories of the Girl’s mother are immediately juxtaposed with the lonesome flight of the Girl from her plantation, contrasting maternal imagery with the reality of slavery:
The Girl slept restlessly, feeling the prickly straw as if it were teasing pinches from her mother […]. At other moments in her dream it was the crackling of the brush as her mother raked the bristles through the Girl’s thicket of dark hair […]. She had traveled by night for fifteen hours before daring to stop. Her body held out until a deserted farmhouse, where it surrendered to this demanding sleep hemmed by fear. Then the sound of walking, a man moving stealthily through the dawn light toward her. In the dream it remained what it was: danger. A white man wearing the clothes of an overseer. (109)
Thus, from the very beginning, Gomez consciously evokes the nineteenth-century Southern setting of her short story: the historical cradle of binary constructions of motherhood along racial lines in the United States.4 It is within this frame that Gomez introduces—with the protagonist the Girl as nexus—two maternal characters in her story, the Girl’s biological mother and Gilda, the white woman who saves her. From the outset of their portrayal, both female characters fall outside of predetermined societal scripts for black and white women of antebellum times.
The Girl’s mother, a slave, only exists within the Girl’s dream-memories, which are interwoven as flashbacks throughout the text. Although the trope of memory is a clear marker of the corporeal absence of the mother and highlights the inherent instabilities and disruptions that were so intrinsic to black motherhood under slavery, the Girl’s reminiscences also serve further vital functions. Similarly to slave characters in other black women’s neo-slave narratives, such as Sherley Anne Williams’s protagonist Dessa, memories of loved ones provide what Farah Jasmine Griffin has called “a safe space,” in which slaves—in this case the Girl—can “temporarily escape [their] material conditions and surroundings while also claiming [their] physical sel[ves]” (529). Furthermore, within the short story, these memories present an alternative means of revisiting the past that is based entirely on personal emotions and experiences which “displace the traditional, male-dominated, factual history record” (L. Hall 396). They thus present a black female perspective on the slave mother outside of white hegemonic discourses, which time and again presented black women either as inherently sexually promiscuous or as asexual, devoted servants. Hence, these memories allow Gomez to construct a complex black mother character who can create her own sense of identity by holding on to her “Fulani past” (“Louisiana” 112), which, as Ellen Brinks and Lee Talley have noted, represents her “symbolic property that the slave owners cannot confiscate or control” (159; emphasis in original). In contrast to antebellum stereotypes that constructed black women as mammies nursing white children or Jezebels who neglected their offspring, Gomez portrays the slave mother as a “strong, adored woman, a firm anchor in the world” (Rody 81) for the Girl, emphasizing an intimate and nurturing relationship between the black mother and her daughter. This becomes most visible in reminiscences recollections of shared sleeping, where the Girl is “curled up around her mother’s body on the straw and cornhusk mattress next to the big, old stove” (Gomez, “Louisiana” 109), and cooking, activities which repeatedly resurface in the text:
The Girl ran to the stove, took the ladle in her hand, and moved the thick gruel around in the iron pot. She grinned proudly at her mother when she walked back in: no sign of sticking in the pot. Her mother returned her smile as she swept the ladle up in her large hand. (110)
Thus, within the narrow site of the kitchen, the slave mother is able to counteract the negative and derogatory perceptions, as well as the subhuman treatment, of black women, by creating a space of comfort, closeness, and nourishment, as well as by instilling a sense of belonging and stability in the Girl.
In her unusual depiction of Gilda, Gomez similarly avoids monolithic representations of white women as frail, dependent, and asexual Southern Belles. Instead, she renders her as a female character who never fits into any of the ideals of white Southern womanhood5 and clearly resists any prescriptive categories for women. This becomes highly visible in the Girl’s utter confusion upon her first encounter with Gilda:
This one [Gilda] was a puzzlement to her: the dark eyes and pale skin. Her face was painted in colors like a mask, but she wore men’s breeches and a heavy jacket. (Gomez, “Louisiana” 113)
Even after Gilda is later dressed more femininely in “the tight bodice of [a] blue beaded dress,” the Girl is still unable to define her in terms of a clear gender identity and assumes that “[t]his is a man. A little man.” (116; emphasis in original). Since, as Anne Koenen has pointed out, “clothes function socially to express the boundaries between the genders” (Visions 239), Gilda’s cross-dressing thoroughly plays with and violates static conceptions of masculinity and femininity and thus fundamentally undermines any traditional ideas of white Southern womanhood.6 Besides “gender-crossing performative ‘acts’” (L. Hall 399), Gomez further highlights the Girl’s bewilderment by illustrating that—despite Gilda’s white skin color as a racial marker—the Girl is deeply confused about how to define her within the standard binary opposition of black and white, thereby fundamentally calling into question the Girl’s “‘naturalized’ conceptions […] about race” (L. Hall 410). This notion becomes even more evident in scenes where Gilda communicates with the Girl by way of telepathy—a reference to voodoo that the Girl only associates with African American culture, but not with white behavior: “She had heard of people who could talk without speaking but never expected a white to be able to do it” (113). Thus, Gilda is constructed as being “beyond nameable social [and cultural] identities” (Brinks and Talley 161), which becomes clear in Gilda’s self-description: “I am a woman as no other you have known, nor has your mother known, in life and death” (116; emphasis in original).
While several scholars have commented on the importance of the slave mother for the Girl’s identity, primarily with regard to the black mother’s African past,7 only very few critics have noticed Gomez’s transgressive and complex portrayal of a white female character.8 More importantly, none of the (by now) numerous studies on Gomez’s short story has noted the clear parallels and interrelationships between the two female maternal characters. The memories of the black mother function not only, as Brinks and Talley have noted, to instill a sense of “self-understanding” (162) in the Girl—they also play a central role in constructing Gilda as an equally important maternal character in the text.9 It is through the backdrop of the memories of the Girl’s mother—which are interwoven throughout the short story and often frame Gilda’s interactions with the Girl—that Gilda’s growth in becoming a mother for the Girl is illuminated. Besides describing Gilda as a “woman [whose] face was not unlike [the Girl’s] mother’s” and drawing attention to the women’s pasts, which both lie outside the United States (117),10 the short story sets up numerous analogies between the slave mother’s interaction with the Girl in the past and Gilda’s growing affection for the Girl in the present. This notion becomes apparent not only in Gilda’s protection of the Girl from white men’s sexual advances and her encouraging the Girl to tell stories of her past—both reflecting the slave mother’s remembered actions—, but it becomes especially evident in depictions of both, the mother and later Gilda, giving the Girl a bath. In both instances, the bathing scenes present important occasions to illuminate an intimate connection between the Girl and her biological mother or Gilda. The scenes also provide a space to infuse a sense of comfort and pleasure in the Girl:
She [the slave mother] lowered the Girl, small and narrow, into the luxuriant warmth of the tub and lathered her with soap as she sang an unnamed tune. The intimacy of her mother’s hands and the warmth of the water lulled the Girl into a trance of sensuality she never forgot. (112)
Similarly, Gilda, after having found the Girl, prepares a bath for her, “pour[ing] water into a tin tub that sat in a corner of [her] room” (115). In this second instance, the bath instills a newly found feeling of “Rest. Trust. Home.” (115; emphasis in original). However, both bathing scenes have another crucial purpose in the text. The intimate relationship between slave mother and daughter, particularly as depicted in the first bathing scene, reflects the black mother’s spiritual ‘cleansing’ of her daughter’s status as a slave by instilling a strong sense of stability and cultural heritage in the Girl.11 Parallel to this, Gilda’s shedding of the Girl’s dirty clothes and her bathing constitutes the ultimate signification of the Girl leaving her life as a slave behind, metaphorically “birthing [her] out of slavery” (Brinks and Talley 160).12
Yet, while the slave mother serves a vital function in constructing Gilda as a mother character to the black girl, the issue of a power imbalance between a white woman and a black (former) slave in the nineteenth-century South remains a viable obstacle to creating a plausible interracial maternal relationship between the two. As other contemporary novels of slavery by black women have indicated, it is exactly the power and racial privilege of the white woman that presents the greatest challenge to equal interracial bonds between black and white women and that makes an emotionally trusting relationship ultimately difficult or impossible to achieve.13 During the Girl’s initial encounter with Gilda, the short story alludes to the power hierarchy between white and black women within the system of slavery. Upon seeing that the “pale face above her was a woman’s,” the Girl is not only “seized with white fear,” but notes that “they, too, could be as dangerous as their men” (112). However, it is immediately after this encounter that Gomez erodes the Girl’s fears of Gilda being a plantation mistress by highlighting that Gilda is taking the Girl “to a large building on the edge of the city—not a plantation house, but with the look of a hotel” (113; my emphasis). As it turns out, Gilda runs a brothel in which the women—black and white—stay and leave of their own free will, get paid, and speak their minds among each other. Thus, Gilda is not only independent, eroding mistress/slave power dynamics in the treatment of her ‘employees,’ but she also follows an occupation that in itself contrasts sharply with what cultural norms defined as fit for the chaste, white, Southern plantation mistress.
However, it is ultimately through the use of the fantastic—that is, the trope of the vampire—that Gomez inherently disrupts the traditional Southern racial power hierarchy and opens a realm in which an interracial mother-daughter relationship, based on equal terms, can be achieved. A nocturnal creature between life and death, living in the shadows, drinking blood, and impossible to be contained within national, social, or cultural boundaries, the literary vampire is centrally characterized by his (or her) status as an outsider, a “floating category of all things ‘alien’ to the normative forces of official cultural discourses” (M. Jones 154). Traditionally, the vampires’ need to sustain themselves by feeding off victims “necessitates a hiding from or ‘passing’” (M. Jones 158) among humans, always concealing their identity and moving on so as to not become hunted by those whose very societal norms they undermine. Thus, the vampire has not only been constructed as an adversary but is a figure who is profoundly “marked, different” (Winnubst 7), that is, the vampire constitutes the quintessential Other.
Gomez repeatedly re-appropriates the traditionally white male genre of vampire fiction in her short story by creating lesbian vampires from different ethnic backgrounds (Gilda’s lover Bird, for example, is a Native American vampire) who do not kill but instill pleasant dreams in exchange for blood.14 Despite this, she makes it clear from the very beginning that the vampires in her story always live on the fringes of society and meticulously conceal their identity. This notion is especially illuminated by a special marker in the short story, since their ‘home’—the brothel—is located on the outskirts of town, and they prefer to withdraw to farmhouses, which are located even further out in the deserted countryside. Although described as white in the short story, Gilda, as a vampire, falls outside societal norms for women in a white supremacist system. Similarly to Bird and the Girl, she is thus profoundly marked as Other. While her outsider status gives her freedom from restrictive nineteenth-century gender roles—and her white skin color allows her to be tolerated as the owner of a brothel—, she nevertheless lives a nomadic life characterized by “years of isolation and [fear of] discovery” (133).
Yet, it is precisely Gilda’s status as a vampire—her otherness—that presents a productive vehicle for creating a plausible interracial mother-daughter relationship between a white woman and a slave girl, since it places Gilda not only outside of accustomed social roles and physical spaces, but, more importantly, outside of the traditional power imbalance between whites and blacks in the setting of the nineteenth century. ‘Race’ thus ceases to be an ‘insurmountable barrier’ to the interracial maternal relationship between the two (S. Jones 81), since Gilda’s vampire status puts them on similar footing. From their initial encounter onwards, it is Gilda’s difference that also leads the Girl to see this white woman from a new vantage point. This is highlighted in the Girl’s response to Gilda’s supernatural ability to read minds:
This woman, Gilda, could see into her mind. That was clear. The Girl was not frightened though, because it seemed she could see into Gilda’s as well. That made them even. (117)
While her nocturnal habits make Gilda an outsider even within the women-centered community of the brothel—who conclude that she and Bird are “conjure women” (122)—, the Girl continuously feels further drawn to and connects with Gilda particularly because of her peculiar behavior and inexplicable abilities. Furthermore, from their very first encounter, it is not just Gilda who “watch[es] the Girl,” observing that there is “an intensity, curiosity, and vulnerability” in her eyes (116). More importantly, the Girl openly returns the white woman’s gaze, indeed “star[es] at Gilda’s narrow face” and decides that “what she had seen when the woman [Gilda] opened herself to her […] had made her trust her” (116). Thus, it is not only Gilda who, as a white woman, gazes at the black slave girl, but her status as vampire creates “spaces of agency” (hooks 116), in which both characters are equally given the opportunity for a “critical gaze” that “‘looks’ to document […] naming what [they] see” (hooks 116). As the story progresses, the Girl thus develops a profound sense of comfort and safety around Gilda, realizing that her “knowledge of Gilda came from a deeper place” (137-38), which creates an “unspoken completeness” (139) between the two.
The established closeness and trust in Gilda and the Girl’s interracial maternal relationship is ultimately—and most profoundly—illustrated in the Girl’s transformation into a vampire, a scene which is not only framed by an image of the Girl’s biological slave mother but also abounds with maternal metaphors in general.
She heard a soft humming that sounded like her mother. She couldn’t look away from Gilda’s gaze, which held her motionless. Yet she felt free and would have laughed if she had had the strength to open her mouth. She sensed rather than felt Gilda pull her into her arms […]. She curled her long body in Gilda’s lap like a child safe in her mother’s arms. She felt a sharpness at her neck and heard the soothing song. Gilda kissed her on the forehead and neck where the pain had been, catching her in a powerful undertow. She clung to Gilda, sinking deeper into a dream, barely hearing Gilda as she said, ‘Now you must drink.’ She opened the skin of her chest. She pressed the Girl’s mouth to the red life that seeped from her. Soon the flow was a tide that left Gilda weak. She pulled the suckling girl away and closed the wound. Gilda sat with the Girl curled in her lap until the fire died. (147)
The act of taking blood and the transformation of humans into vampires has traditionally been depicted in terms of a violent, almost orgasmic sexual act—with the fangs of the vampire ‘penetrating’ the victim’s neck. However, Gomez reconfigures these “historical codings” (S. Jones 159) by foregrounding the blood exchange between two women, intermingling lesbian eroticism with imagery of tenderness and nurturance, as well as re-defining the act of the vampire’s bite “as an uncanny female bodily process evocative […] of childbirth” (Rody 97).15
In this regard, what is most striking about this scene is its strong evocation of breastfeeding. The image of nursing the “suckling girl” from an incision in “the skin of her chest” further underlines the dimensions of the closeness that Gilda and the Girl have achieved in their interracial maternal relationship since, as Fiona Giles has pointed out in her study Fresh Milk, breastfeeding a child requires a close “reading of needs” and “attention to opaquely expressed feelings—hunger, tiredness, pain, distress” (244). Furthermore, Gomez revises historical constructions of black and white motherhood by employing an “unfamiliar race-role reversal” (S. Jones 90): in depicting Gilda, a white woman, breastfeeding a black slave girl, she reverses the iconic mammy image and thus profoundly reconceptualizes racial conventions and taboos. This scene evokes numerous other literary reversals of the mammy image, which portray white women nursing black children. A prime example is Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose. Here, Rufel—a white slave mistress who nurses a runaway slave mother’s child—looks with fascination at the “sleek black head, the nut-brown face flattened against the pearly paleness of her breast” (101). In Jackie Kay’s short story “Big Milk” (1998), it is the black narrator herself who imagines being breastfed like a baby: “lying across my mother’s white breast, my small brown face suffocating in the pure joy of warm, sweet milk” (46).
More importantly though, Gilda’s nursing of the Girl adds yet another dimension to their relationship—it not only inverts stereotypical imagery of black and white mothers, but ultimately crosses dichotomized racial distinctions in that the two characters—for a short moment—give up distinct boundaries and create a “symbiosis of bodies” (Files 243). As Critical Race scholar Patricia J. Williams has noted in her study The Alchemy of Race: “The image of a white woman suckling a black child; the image of a black child suckling for its life from the bosom of a white woman” implies “the giving up of boundary; the encompassing of other within self; [an] unbounded generosity and interconnectedness” (40). This transgression of racial boundaries is further enhanced by having the two characters exchange blood, not milk. While the feeding vampire has—up to the 1980s—been conventionally framed by associations of “violence, pollution, and corruption” (Patterson 40), and has been used to reflect anxieties over transmittable diseases ranging from syphilis to AIDS, Gomez inherently changes these parameters. Gilda and the Girl’s mixed blood is, as Brinks and Talley have pointed out, “not perceived as tainted” (158), but is presented as “reciprocal nourishment” (166) and as necessary to ‘birth’ the Girl into her new identity as a black female vampire.16 This notion is further highlighted by the inclusion of Gilda’s Native American lover Bird into the ‘birthing cycle’—for it is only with Bird’s act of feeding and nourishing that the Girl can survive as a vampire:
Bird sat against the pillow and pulled the Girl into her arms […]. [She] pulled aside her woolen shirt and bared her breasts. She made a small incision beneath the right one and pressed the Girl’s mouth to it. The throbbing in her chest became synchronous with the Girl’s breathing. Soon the strength returned to the Girl’s body; she no longer looked so small. Bird repeated the exchange, taking from her as Gilda had done and returning the blood to complete the process. (149)
Thus, the exchange of blood between Gilda, the Girl and Bird profoundly disrupts any essentialized notions of fixed and static racial categories, presenting instead the fluid identities of the three female vampires, in whom clear racial categories begin to slip and slide and “float ambiguously in some unstable, […] hybrid zone of indeterminacy” (S. Hall 236).17
In addition, ‘vampire reproduction’ in this short story fundamentally deconstructs any traditional, male-dominated definitions of reproduction and family in general, since biological procreation is evaded in vampires ‘choosing’ their children. As Lynda Hall has noted:
Gomez’s emphasis on ‘family’—on the individual’s ability to choose and ‘create’ the ‘family’—not only bypasses heterosexuality and negates the male presence as […] powerful ‘head’ of the family, but also takes agency in the ‘act’ itself—naming and claiming identity as a family without procreation as a necessary component. (401)18
Indeed, the short story is not only marked by the absence of men as fathers, but also by replacing the (white, male) power to name by establishing a maternal lineage through Gilda’s passing her name on to the Girl. Furthermore, both instances of blood exchange also dismantle patriarchal concepts of a “fixed and stable maternal identity” (Abbey and O’Reilly 14), which define women entirely with regard to motherhood by blurring the boundaries of mother, daughter, and lover. Each woman shifts from one identity to another since, as the aforementioned quotes have shown, the blood exchange occurs mutually among them and thus violates any clear “body limits and borders” (L. Hall 419).19 Thus, besides introducing the trope of the female vampire in order to offer an alternative model for an interracial maternal relationship, Gomez goes further by inherently disrupting societal narratives of black and white motherhood in general. She creates innovative spaces of (vampire) mothering that exist outside of a white, male-dominated familial script.
One of the central tenets of fiction by black women writers in recent decades has been their rejection or transcendence of traditional ideologies of motherhood by including a “multiplicity of maternal patterns enriched by differences” (Abbey and O’Reilly 14), such as race, class and sexuality. In particular, the genre of speculative fiction has proven to be a vital format for new discursive formulations of both black and white motherhood in general, as well as interracial maternal relationships in particular. The latter confront confining parameters of maternal practices and collapse arbitrary boundaries along racial lines. This is particularly evident in Gomez’s “Lousiana 1850,” a short story which fundamentally dismantles and transcends conventional stereotypes for presenting enslaved African American mothers and white women within a nineteenth-century societal script. By employing the fantastic figure of the vampire, the text achieves the construction of a “complex interracial maternal matrix” between a white woman and a black slave child (S. Jones 8). In so doing, Gomez not only complicates and challenges static representations of ‘race’ and interracial maternal relations, but, in her focus on multiple fluid identities of maternal characters, creates “new patterns of relating across difference” (Lorde 123). She thus opens up an imaginative space for a new iconography of the black and white maternal body outside of traditional societal narratives that continue to narrowly define women.20
1 This epigraph is taken from Audre Lorde’s poem “Outlines.” For reference, see Lorde 213.
2 My emphasis in this analysis lies on the concept of mothering, that is, the social act of caretaking, which is not necessarily tied to a biological mother, but can be carried out by anyone regardless of age, gender, race, and ethnicity. With this distinction, I follow Evelyn Nakano Glenn’s definition of mothering as a “historically and culturally variable relationship” (3) within which “one individual nurtures and cares for another” (qtd. in Glenn 3).
3 Jewelle Gomez turned “Lousiana 1850” into the first chapter of her novel The Gilda Stories in the same year, which traces the Girl’s development from girlhood to womanhood from the middle of the nineteenth century to 2050.
4 With her explicit references to American slavery, Gomez inscribes herself into a long tradition of black women’s writing, from the slave narrative of the nineteenth century to the most recent neo-slave narratives, in which black women writers have continuously been concerned with the disruption and revision of stereotypical imagery of black women, especially in regard to motherhood.
5 See Welter 152-56.
6 For a further discussion of Gilda’s “‘queer’ identity,” see Brinks and Talley 161.
7 See, for example, Brinks and Talley; L. Hall; Patterson.
8 Only Lynda Hall, Ellen Brinks, and Caroline Rody have given Gilda more detailed attention in their studies, however, neither has commented on the significance of the white female character within a nineteenth-century Southern setting.
9 Although several scholars mention Gilda’s parental role for the Girl, they do not fully explore the significance of Gilda’s mothering role as an antebellum white Southern woman. While both Rody and Brinks mention the short story’s multicultural (Rody 82) and multiracial (Brinks 166) subtext, they fail to analyze how the text constructs a plausible interracial mother-daughter relationship between Gilda and the slave girl.
10 As noted before, the Girl’s memories illuminate that her mother constructed her own identity primarily outside a Euro-American context, passing on African legends and stories to the Girl “in different languages” (Gomez, “Louisiana” 110). Likewise, the Girl discovers a similar past in Gilda: “behind the dark brown of Gilda’s eyes the Girl recognized forests, ancient roots and arrows” (Gomez, “Louisiana” 117).
11 While she was still alive, the slave mother repeatedly defined herself outside a Euro-American context, passing on stories to her daughter which were “pieced together from many different languages to describe the journey to this land. The legends sketched a picture of the Fulani past—a natural rhythm of life without bondage.” (110)
12 While Brinks and Talley mention in passing that Gilda’s bathing of the Girl follows her mother’s in the story, they do not comment on its significance in the short story (161). Both instances mirror numerous ritual bathing scenes in contemporary novels by black women, which often involve spiritual and bodily healing and are frequently framed using birthing imagery. Some notable examples are Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987), in which Baby Suggs gently washes Sethe’s wounds after her escape from slavery, Milkman and Sweet’s shared baths in Song of Solomon (1977), as well as Gloria Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place (1982), in which Mattie bathes and rocks Ciel, helping her to find her way back into life. As Jasmine Farah Griffin has noted, many African-based spiritual rituals involve “healing baths” (522), in which “battered women undergo cleansing baths” (523) which are performed by “another woman who truly cares about [them]” (qtd. in Griffin 523).
13 See, for example, Chandra Lee Wells’s study of interracial friendship between black and white women in Toni Morrison’s Beloved and Sherley Anne Williams’s Dessa Rose.
14 For a discussion of Gomez’s re-appropriation of the vampire genre, see M. Jones.
15 As Kathy Patterson notes, “Gomez deemphasizes the connection between feeding and rape so common in vampire fiction and portrays vampirism itself as no longer an exercise of distinctly masculine power” (40).
16 Interestingly, this depiction of blood exchange between the women has also been read as a comment on “the taboo that denigrates the female body and bodily fluids as ‘dirty,’” which, according to Brinks and Talley, is repudiated in the short story through its representations of “a lesbian oral-sex/birth scene where women’s bleeding is represented as life-giving and erotically charged” (165).
17 This assessment is based on Donna Haraway’s discussion of the literary vampire, who, according to Haraway, “effects category transformation by […] passages of substance; the one who drinks and infuses blood in a paradigmatic act of infecting whatever poses as pure” (214). The vampire, according to Haraway, thus “trouble[s] racial categories,” since it is a “figure that promises and threatens racial and sexual mixing” (214). For a similar discussion of vampirism, see Winnubst.
18 See also Brinks and Talley; and Rody. Numerous other scholars have commented on the non-biological form of vampire reproduction in literature in general. See, for example, Koenen (Visions). Notable exceptions from asexual vampire reproduction can be found in The Living Blood (2001)by the African American woman writer Tananarive Due. In this vampire novel, the immortal Life Brother David (a male vampire) has a child with Jessica (a mortal women turned into a vampire), who gives natural birth to their hybrid vampire child Fana.
19 As Brinks and Talley note, this scene “challenges the incest boundaries that divide family members from one another. There is no stable I/you or individuated identity given the way vampires bond as family” (165). For a similar assessment, see L. Hall and Rody. For a reading of the vampire’s bite in relation to menstrual blood, see L. Hall and Winnubst.
20 With regard to the nomenclature in this essay, I use the terms ‘black’ and ‘African American’ interchangeably, as there has been “little distancing of the earlier term” (Bennett 13) to the latter after its conversion in the late 1980s. In addition, the term ‘black’ was chosen by African Americans themselves and was seen to instill “a sense of identity and pride” (Martin 85). I further wish to point out that my usage of ‘black’ and ‘white’ does not refer to essentialist categorizations, but is grounded in the understanding of these terms as historical and social constructs.
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Gomez, Jewelle. “Lousiana 1850.” Children of the Night: The Best Short Stories by Black Writers, 1967 to Present. Ed. Gloria Naylor. Boston: Little, Brown & Co, 1997. 109-51.
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